Sunday, 15 February 2015

Solisen, Alta

Our flight back to Oslo was due to depart at 6pm so any sort of unplanned moderate drama needed to be avoided. A venue called Solisen, south of Kløften, looked a safe bet, with some decent single-pitch routes in close proximity to the road.

The horizontal snow had finally abated with clear skies and uninhibited views of the coastline and hills now predominating. It was good to see what the Alta area looked like before leaving. Despite the clear weather it was biting cold, with a considerable wind chill.

We parked directly beneath the routes. The approach was relatively short, however some exceptionally deep snow made things more protracted. Sometimes the snow extended to my waist, needing me to clear the top foot of snow with my hands in order to advance a step. Not particularly tiring, given the depth of powder but certainly time consuming. Mechanically I climbed the slope in this fashion, following the repeatitive clearing process with each advancement, slowly forming a deep trench in the direction of the ice. By the time I looked up from my burrowing the ice was getting close at hand.

Wading
We obvious routes to head to was a pair of WI4s, which looked to hold the most ice and be the main draw card. The right hand route, called Solisen, wasn't properly formed, although a line of sorts looked possible towards the far right. It's delicate ice curtains otherwise failed to meet up one another. Stolpen (WI4) further left looked much more appealing with possibilities looking to range from WI3-5. It's main wall was steep and lacking features but further left were easier lines that snaked around the back. Atmosphere added from a large roof of rock extending over the start of the ice.

Stolpen (left) & Solisen (right)

I followed an interesting line that curved around the back of the face and then veered rightwards up a couple of steep steps in the direction of a tree immersed in the ice. Easy climbing above the belay quickly brought me to a frozen pool. To my surprise its surface broke at the edge, where it began to steepen, and promptly I submerged my left boot in icy water to my ankle. Not a good start the day's climbing but fortunately my gaiter kept most of the water out. The ice for the large part was a decent quality although easier angles were still coated in the hard layer of icy snow that needed to be discarded. Some of the best climbing on the trip nevertheless.

Stolpen (WI4)
Then on the flat icy summit it was my right foot's turn to break the surface and unexpectedly meet with water. I attempted to make an ice screw belay but repeatedly struck water after a couple of inches, instead opting for a distant tree. By this point Anna was getting cold at the belay and consequently suffered from hot aches during much of the climb.

Bubbling water through an ice screw hole
Top of the ice
We had time for another route but opted for a nearby short WI3 called Solisinnet. It wasn't formed anywhere near as fat as in the picture in our guide and looked very easy for the grade via a weakest line on the left. I consequently did my best to make things as hard as possible for myself, finding the line of most resistance up a short narrow icy buttress in the centre. Unpredictable ice made things sketchier than anticipated. One axe placement triggered a hairline horizontal crack across the buttress. Then brown-yellow ice to my right, which I had anticipated would be good for screws, also developed cracks around the perimeter of a large section, indicating imminent departure. Thoughts of retreat crossed my mind but the saving grace were some good axe placements higher up that encouraged me to push on.

Solisinnet (WI3)
The final day's climbing was good, however highlight was undoubtedly the protracted Arctic sunset over the neighbouring lake. A fitting conclusion to the trip, made more special by the four days of start-stop snow preceeding. We lingered to take pictures and enjoy the colours but ultimately knew we needed to head to the airport.

The ice conditions in Alta were a mixed affair in summary but we made the most of our time and definately found some adventure. None of the routes that we climbed were on the agenda prior to the trip and were primarily dictated by conditions. That of course means there is certainly plenty to return for, which is always a good thing. Isberget and Borrasbekken both deserve a return trip as looked exceptional for the grade. Maybe next time though I'll visit a month later to see if the ice conditions improve.

View from the top of the crag
Sunset over Trangdalsvatn

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